South Slope. Asheville.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Measure of a Teacher

This day I stopped by for a visit.  circa late '90s
I took my friends from Seattle & Portland, OR to the school to meet Mother.

Mother's retirement party
My mother was a primary school teacher for 25 years, and based on what people have told me, a very, very good one.  Mother was more than a teacher.  She was an example and role model.  Far from perfect, of course, but there were times where she clearly stood for what was right, and didn't back down.  Here was a biggie:  Mother told me about a time in her classroom - second grade class, by the way - when a white student, a girl, leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, said out loud in front of the whole class, a class that had a handful of black students, "My mama said that the [insert place of business here] ain't gone close for no nigger."  How did my mother respond?  Well, after telling her to never use that word again and why she shouldn't, Mother launched into a "real lesson" for the whole class, and especially for that young girl, putting aside the text book and simply explaining, in her own way, what Martin Luther King, Jr. did to improve our society, and what he stood for.  I remember when she shared this with me.  It made me feel proud of her, and in awe, really, because I knew that so much our society was stuck in the old ways - certainly of her generation.  Many still are.  So, it took courage. Real courage.  Mother, of course, grew up in the segregated South, and in a rural part of Henry County, and if she could change her thinking, anybody can.  Incidentally, the other day I was playing back an interview I did with my grandmother Dot, my mother's mother - an interview I did in 1997.  It was mainly just a spontaneous, fun Q & A where I was trying out my micro-cassette recorder.  Dot was witty and sharp, and had her own opinions for sure.  In that interview, there was a moment when I asked, "Dot, what was it like in those days, in terms of race relations and the whole system of segregation?  Times were really different back then, right?"  Her answer, "To be honest with you, it was pathetic."  There she was, in her late seventies, putting it out there.  So maybe my mother's views didn't entirely happen by accident or self-discovery.

Sometime in the late 1980s (I know it was about then because my mother, Bonnie Willis, retired from school in 1989) some of the special education kids at Headland Elementary made ceramics that were sold to raise funds for something.  Mother bought a nice ceramic swan that was one of a matching pair (probably male and female).  Seems like it was $15 - $20.  She really didn't think she could afford or should buy the other one.
A few days later, mother was home on Forrest Street and the side doorbell rang and it was Dinah with the other ceramic swan as a surprise gift.  The ceramic swans still sit on the bricks beneath the fireplace to this day!!!   We always thought that was nice.
I told mother that I saw you and Miles, and she said that Dinah was always very nice and grateful when she would do some teachers-aid work for her at school. Your mother was a very kind, thoughtful and giving person, and is greatly missed!   - Marc Willis

No comments: